Teaching Research Ethics: Attitudes

Attitudes that promote RCR can be defined by an acceptance and understanding of the value of acting in ways which foster responsible conduct. Attitudes are closely related to opinions and beliefs, and are based upon personal experiences, and can be influenced by interactions with others. Examples of such attitudes include:

  • Importance: understanding the importance of thinking through cases; understanding why good research ethics are important; appreciation for why both high crimes and misdemeanors matter
  • Morality: sense of solidarity and identification with others, e.g. research subjects; sense of moral obligation and personal responsibility regarding practices in general and specific
  • Practical Considerations: sensitivity regarding ethical issues and RCR in the practice of science; sense of appreciation for the range of acceptable practices; sense of empowerment
  • Interest: continued interest and positive attitude toward continued learning.

An intrinsic assumption for discussing the goals and core competencies for teaching RCR is that ethics can be taught. One must first believe that RCR instruction can influence the thinking processes that underlie behavior, and that students can learn the conventions and rules for appropriate research conduct, to reflect on choices and decisions regarding RCR, to develop ethical sensitivity and critical thinking skills, and can learn to effectively resolve ethical conflicts in new situations. In a review of The University of Chicago’s program on scientific integrity, Sachs and Siegler (1993) discussed this question of benefits in teaching research ethics. They cited similar discussions relative to teaching medical ethics to medical students and residents (Miles et al, 1989; Clouser, 1975). Critics of teaching medical ethics said that a trainee’s character and moral constitution were determined by his or her upbringing many years before reaching medical school or residency training. However, in a study of the benefits of medical ethics courses, a large number of practicing physicians responded that ethics courses were beneficial for teaching physicians to identify values conflicts, for increasing sensitivities to patients’ needs, for increasing their understanding of their own values, and dealing more openly with moral dilemmas (Pellegrino et al, 1985).

There has been increased focus on developing moral awareness about ethical issues in scientific research. Rest and colleagues (1986) demonstrated that a person’s moral development—the way the person approaches and resolves ethical issues—continues to change throughout formal education. They proposed a Four-Component Model of Morality, posing the question: When a person is behaving morally, what must we suppose has happened psychologically to produce the behavior?

  • Moral sensitivity: person made interpretation of situation in terms of what actions were possible, who (including oneself) would be affected by each course of action, and how the interested parties would regard such effects on their welfare.
  • Moral reasoning: person must have been able to make a judgment about which course of action was morally right…what he ought to do.
  • Moral commitment: person must give priority to moral values above other personal values – to do what is morally right.
  • Moral perseverance or implementation: person must have sufficient perseverance, ego strength, and implementation skills to be able to follow through on his/her intention to behave morally, to withstand fatigue and flagging will, and to overcome obstacles.

From this work, Bebeau (1994) suggests that training in ethical reasoning can be effective in increasing the ability of emerging professionals to engage in ethical behavior in scientific research (Rest, 1986; Rest et al, 1986; Bebeau, 1991; Piper et al, 1993; Bebeau et al, 1995). RCR instruction, which includes training in ethical reasoning and decision-making, can help trainees become more sensitive to and more capable of recognizing areas of ethical conflict in research and scientific training. It can help encourage students to reflect on and understand their own values in a deeper way, and this may be beneficial when faced with real-life pressures of publishing, obtaining grants and advancing up the academic ladder (Sachs and Siegler, 1993).

 


Originally published 1999-2013 at Resources for Research Ethics Education, a web project directed by Michael Kalichman, Ph.D., and Dena Plemmons, Ph.D., from the University of California-San Diego Research Ethics Program and the San Diego Research Ethics Consortium. Republished with permission.


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